The average workday might be 8 hours, but employees don’t actually work for that long. The number of actual hours they spend focused on work is a better reflection of productivity, and there’s a marked difference between the two. If you’re on the payroll hook for your workers, then that difference could be costing you a lot. Here’s how to mitigate that crisis and get more out of your team.

How the Work Day Got to Where it is Today

A couple of hundred years ago, people worked for up to 16 hours a day because factory use demanded it — they needed to run around the clock and robots hadn’t been invented yet. However, it wasn’t long before people realised that was tough and unsustainable.

One activist by the name of Robert Owen came up with the saying, “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest”, but it would be almost 100 years before the 8-hour workday became the norm (even if Americans work an average of 44 hours a week). That was when the Ford Motor Company did two things: doubled wages and cut daily work hours to 8.

One of the biggest and most immediate results, despite Ford being synonymous with inventing the assembly line and streamlining productivity already, was increased productivity. Employees, no longer forced to stay at work long after they hit the wall, felt more motivated to do their work because they could go home earlier.

Fast forward to today, and the average worker is at their job for about 8 hours a day — but producing for less than 3 of them. That’s right, less than 3. There are a number of reasons for that startling statistic:

  • Checking social media
  • Chatting with colleagues
  • Dealing with queries and interruptions
  • Reading news online
  • Making and eating food and drinks
  • Smoking
  • Texting and calling others
  • Looking for a new job

Overall, this loss in productivity is costing the American economy about half a trillion dollars a year, and that’s just the U.S. — they only have a little more than 4% of the world’s population. Worldwide, that’s a lot of money wasted in lost productivity.

Solving the Productivity Problem

So, there’s a bit of a problem going on. Employees are doing less than ever before and it’s costing companies dearly. And as the leader of your team, it’s up to you to boost productivity. But how do you do that when it’s a global problem?

Prevent Exhaustion and Burnout

Tired workers are mistake-prone workers. If you’re pushing your team too hard, then you’re also pushing them to the point of burnout and mistakes — the former can impact employee retention, while the latter can cost your company money and business.

Learn to recognise when your team is reaching their respective stress points and stop them before they get there, whether that’s by implementing online tools and apps to help with workflow or taking a closer look at project details to see how you can streamline things better.

Break Up the Day Around Serious Focus Time

Human brains are wired for about four hours of serious focus each day, which means tasks that aren’t meetings and emails. Calculate how much time the actual big work tasks will take, then plan out the rest of their days with stuff that requires less intensive attention. This gives your team a chance to operate at peak productivity while also having time to do less important work, and still fill the 8 hour work day.

Longer Days Don’t Automatically Equal Better Efficiency

Ever found yourself on a big project and kept at it, thinking that if you just put more time in, you could grind it out? Well, that’s not exactly how it works. There’s a reason why university students who cram for exams do worse than those who break up studying over a longer timeframe.

However, it’s almost human nature to cram instead of starting ahead of time and it’s called Parkinson’s Law: work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Or, in other words, the more time a person is allowed to work on something, the more time they’ll spend procrastinating and overthinking instead of actually working on it.

Ironically, giving less time to a task can lead to increased productivity. That’s because it reduces the amount of time a person can stress over the looming deadline and how much perceived work is involved. They’ll then see it as a more manageable task and get to it much quicker.

Shorter Work Days Leads to Fewer Sick Days

Noticed your team calling in sick a lot? It might just be because they’re working long days. When employees are faced with really long hours, it can lead to increased stress and anxiety, decreased alertness, less exercise, and wear and tear on their general health.

And that means more sick days.

It also means unhappier employees, as their lives start to revolve more around work and less around work-life balance. The last thing you want is a team that dreads coming to work. You want a team that’s motivated and fulfilled and actually contributing to the project.

Some of the things you can do are limit emails sent after work hours (and not reply to yours), encourage them to leave at closing time instead of staying late, and introduce shorter work days here and there.

Final Thoughts

Building a healthy work culture can help lead to better productivity so that fewer work hours are lost. Try delegating tasks more, making good communication a priority, recognising employees’ strengths and weaknesses and, of course, using Tameday as the central hub of your work day.

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Related: The Ivy Lee Method: The 101-Year Old Productivity Hack